What is Good Communication?

One of the most common grievances that clients lodge against attorneys is an attorney’s failure to adequately communicate with them.  While the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct[1] does not define the term “adequate communication,” attorneys should take the time to determine what that term means for their practice as communication is the key to establishing and maintaining a good attorney-client relationship. As such, it is a good idea to implement an office practice that is communicated to the client early in the representation. For example, it is a good office practice to inform a new client that telephone calls are returned within a certain time period (e.g, a 24 hour period, or 1-2 business days).  Another good office practice that some attorneys implement is to send their clients a carbon copy of all pleadings and correspondence in the client’s matter as way to keep them informed of the status of a litigation.

In our technology driven world, many attorneys communicate with clients in a multitude of ways: telephone calls, letters, e-mail, instant messaging, Skype and the like.  However, the most effective and recommended way to communicate with a client is by way of a carefully drafted letter.  It is perhaps the best method to convey important information to the client with regard to their legal matter, especially if it requires the client to make a decision about a recommended course of action.  This is because communications made by telephone or e-mail can sometimes be made with haste and may be later forgotten or misconstrued by the client. However, creating a well written letter (copied to the file) that requires the attorney to reflect on the legal advice or information given to the client, not only benefits the client, but also, serves as a level of protection for the attorney as well in the event that a disagreement about the information conveyed or misunderstanding between the parties should occur. Written communications should be made to the client throughout the course of the representation. The representation should start with the initial engagement letter/fee agreement that sets forth the scope of the representation and the rate or basis of the fee.  If there are important developments in a client’s matter (settlement offer, upcoming court date, expert witness fees needed) or some other important information that the attorney needs to share with the client (change in office address or contact information, attorney on extended vacation, attorney closing their practice), it should always be in writing. The representation should also end with a termination/closing letter notifying the client that the matter is either resolved or that the attorney is terminating the relationship.

An attorney that takes the time to develop a good office procedure with regard to how he or she communicates with their clients will not only make for a more efficient practice but will also ensure that the attorney does not run afoul of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct are now available via new mobile apps  for the iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry, a project of the Young Lawyers’ Section.


[1] Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct  Rule 1.4 (Communication) states:

(a)  A lawyer shall:

(1)  promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(f), is required by these Rules;

(2)  keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(3)  promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(4)  consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

(b)  A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

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